A new path in German law and order policy? – Lecture at the IPW colloquium in Heidelberg

Presenting some evidence of why the German law and order policy path might have changed

On invitation by Colette Vogeler, I had the privilege to speak at the colloquium of the Institute for Political Science of the University of Heidelberg on Thursday. Drawing on a study by Georg Wenzelburger and me, recently published in the Austrian Journal for Political Science, I argued in my lecture why we might have experienced a shift in the path of Germany’s law and order policy due to the refugee crisis of 2015/2016.

Based on earlier research Georg and I concluded in a 2016 article in Politics & Policy that Germany does not follow other countries in a substantial harshening of its sentencing and security law or a major build-up of its security infrastructure. Yet, after the refugee crisis hit Germany in the summer and fall of 2015 though we may need to question our own statement. In my guest lecture in Heidelberg I presented a whole set of security sector indicators – both state (police numbers, budgets, legislation) and market ones (personnel, turnover) – which all suggest a marked and (till now) lasting difference to the status quo before the refugee crisis. The data mirrors how public and private security personnel grows in (market) and after (state) the great increase in refugee numbers and how German law and order policy became stricter, more punitive, and linked to the policy sector of migration.

Besides this observation of differences with the status quo ante, Collier/Collier (1991) call for the identification of mechanisms supporting the new path when analyzing possible critical junctures. Based theoretically on Sydow et al. (2009) and empirically on a survey with the administrations overseeing refugee accommodations on the level of the German Länder we were able to highlight such potential mechanisms. The reform of German private security regulation in 2016 e.g. established new rules and procedures, decreasing coordination costs between state security actors themselves and between them and security companies. Such decisions taken in and (at least to some degree) influenced by the crisis might help a new policy path, characterized by a new collaboration between public and private security forces, to lock in.

Afterwards discussing the data with Prof. Zohlnhöfer and Dr. Vogeler of the IPW Heidelberg

Our paper on which my talk in Heidelberg rested is rather exploratory and it is still too soon to reliably test the beginning of a new path in German law and order policy. But the lively discussion after the talk with the very much interested colleagues and students in Heidelberg showed how salient the issue of domestic security has become and how necessary further research activities by policy analysts are (Please, see also the research projects in which the study originated: The Politics of Law and Order / The Political Economy of Private Security.)

Helge Staff

[Photos by Colette Vogeler and Linda Voigt]


Collier, Ruth Berins/Collier, David (1991): Shaping the political arena. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Staff, Helge/Wenzelburger, Georg (2019): Mehr Staat, mehr Markt, mehr Sicherheit. Warum die Flüchtlingskrise einen Pfadwechsel in der deutschen Politik der Inneren Sicherheit eingeleitet haben könnte. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft, 47 (4), 45-58.

Sydow, Jörg/ Georg Schreyögg/ Jochen Koch (2009), Organizational Path Dependence: Opening the Black Box, in: Academy of Management Review, 34 (4), 689-709.

Wenzelburger, Georg/Staff, Helge (2016): German Exceptionalism? An Empirical Analysis of 20 Years of Law and Order Legislation. In: Politics & Policy, 44 (2), 319-350.